An RN was accused of being “mean” to a patient in the PACU. The patient had no complaints during her visit in the PACU but went to human resources to voice her complaints.
The RN is recorded stating that she received no details about the patient’s complaint when asked for them even though HR sought to “write her up” with the potential for termination. The RN’s relationship with her director was not in good standing, and her supervisor was “afraid” to support her. She wondered what her rights were under these circumstances.
False allegations against nurses, regardless of the setting, are not new. I have written about this issue several times over the years. Handling these types of allegations are somewhat easier when you are supported by your nursing administrators and HR. However, when such support is missing, as was the case with this RN, rectifying the false claims is more difficult.
Patient’s Complaint is not the Only Issue
Because there seems to be a rift between the RN and her director and her supervisor is afraid to support her, the first thing this RN should do is contact a nurse attorney or her personal attorney for advice on how to proceed.
This consultation does not need to be shared with nursing administration, nor would you need to share this if you were in her shoes.
You always have the right to seek legal advice when a workplace issue arises. This is particularly so when administration is not supportive and there is no other support mechanism, such as a union.
The attorney consulted would need to review employment documents such as the employee handbook, disciplinary policy and procedure, the grievance policy and procedure, and performance evaluations.
The RN stated that she no bad evaluations, so this may be an indication that her concerns about her relationships with the director, supervisor, or HR are affecting their fair and unbiased assessment of the complaints lodged against the RN.
If either of their assessments is based on a discriminatory motive, such as the RN’s race or religion, the attorney would evaluate a possible case alleging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Moreover, if the disciplinary policy and procedure has not been followed by the director, HR, and the supervisor, the attorney can intervene to ensure that the policy is adhered to. Although the RN has not yet been disciplined, it may be that a proper investigation into the complaints has not occurred as the policy and procedure requires, for example.
Also, the RN has not been given the details of the patient’s complaint. This is inconsistent with basic principles of fairness between an employer and an employee.
Despite the fact that the RN may be an “at-will” employee (meaning she has no employment contract), not sharing details about the complaint may violate the implied contract of fair dealing between the employer and the RN.
If she is terminated under these circumstances, the attorney can file a wrongful termination case.
An Additional Concern
Another potential issue for this RN — and for you in a similar situation if you ever find yourself in a similar situation — is if the alleged incident were reported to the state board of nursing. The board could be contacted about a patient’s complaint by the director and/or the patient, alleging that she had acted unprofessionally when caring for the patient.
Unprofessional conduct is a serious allegation. Although it is not clear that the RN’s conduct would meet the requirements for that allegation, she will still have to defend herself against it in order to avoid any disciplinary action by the board.
The RN will need an attorney to represent her in any proceeding before the board of nursing. It may be that the attorney initially consulted for the employment legal issues is also experienced in representing nurses before the board. If not, the she will need to retain another nurse attorney or personal attorney to handle the proceedings before the board.
The bottom line in this situation is that, just like this RN, you have the right to seek legal guidance in order to avoid an unfair decision that might result in the loss of your job and ultimately your professional reputation.
Take these courses to learn more about protecting patients and yourself:
Protect Yourself: Know Your Nurse Practice Act
(1 contact hr)
Nurses have an obligation to keep abreast of current issues related to the regulation of the practice of nursing not only in their respective states but also across the nation. Nurses have a duty to patients to practice in a safe, competent, and responsible manner. This requires nurse licensees to practice in conformity with their state statutes and regulations. This course outlines information about nurse practice acts and how they affect nursing practice.
Everyday Ethics for Nurses
(7.3 contact hrs)
This course provides an overview of bioethics as it applies to healthcare and nursing in the U.S. The course explains the elements of ethical decision-making as they apply both to the care of patients and to ethics committees. The course concludes with a look at the ethical challenges involved in physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and genetic testing.
Document It Right: A Nurse’s Guide to Charting
(5.2 contact hrs)
Although documentation has always been an important part of nursing practice, the increasingly complex healthcare environment, litigious society and the diversity of settings in which patients receive care require that nurses pay more attention to documentation. The computerized patient record has become standard practice, and the days of repetitive task-oriented narrative notes are becoming part of nursing history.